AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Monday, May 19, 2014

The road to Damascus

May 15 & 16, trip days 12 & 13.
(Note: pictures are all at the end of the blog post. It was raining a lot, so I didn't take many.)

Don't you have the sense to come in out of the rain?

Apparently not.

I knew it was going to rain on this trip and that I would have to ride in it. I mean, obviously, we're riding for 93 days, so there will be days in the rain. The surprise was that it took so long before it happened. Then again, maybe all the rain was saved up for this one day.

We knew it was going to be raining that day. The night before we were staring at the weather apps on our phones (modern 'roughing it.) The forecast was calling for 3-4 inches of rain over the course of the day. That's quite a lot.

The night before, we were sleeping in a beautiful Presbyterian church, and the rain came down so hard outside it woke me up, more than once. And when I got up in the morning it was still coming down in buckets. But, by the time we all got our stuff together, loaded our bikes and were ready to head out the door, it had tapered off to a persistently annoying drizzle.

One of the interesting things about this trip and the people in the group are how we all prepared for various different situations. We have different tents, sleeping bags, more or less stuff, etc. And the rain gear was a good example. Some people were decked out practically in head to toe condoms. With $200 jackets, rain pants, helmet condoms that made them look like brightly colored mushrooms (or Princess Peach from Super Mario), and even waterproof shoe covers.

I had taken the minimalist approach. I had a jacket.
And the jacket, it did nothing!

Ok, that's not true, it was better than not having a jacket, but it was soaked through inside of an hour.

And it rained all day. For one thing, it was a welcome reprieve from the heat of the last several days. And although it was chilly out, it wasn't outright cold. I rode in my regular bike close, plus this not-as-waterproof-as-advertised jacket.

Another element to the day was that my stomach was very queasy that morning. No food appealed to me, and I just felt ill. So I wasn't particularly looking forward to riding in the rain.

After about an hour though, it turned out to be mostly a non-issue. It drizzled, it was suitably annoying. Occasionally it picked up to more than a drizzle, occasionally it stopped altogether.
I was soaked through pretty well. I got chilly here and there, mostly when we stopped for too long. But otherwise, once you get used to being out in the rain, it's really not a big deal. Once you're totally wet, you can't get any wetter, it is what it is. And like I said, I knew this was going to happen, so just deal with it. Pedal on, like I'd been doing.
Was it worse than the horrible heat or the steep hills? Not really worse, not better either, just different. A little miserable, but also a little interesting because it was different. And, like I said, it was a reprieve from the intense heat of the week.

Somewhere around mile 15 of another long day we came up on another hill to climb. This one was something like 6 or 7 miles uphill. It was a relatively gentle grade, maybe 6 or 8%. Not nearly as bad as climbing the blue ridge mountains, but more consistent. It just went up and up and up. I put the bike into a low gear and just spun*.

*Spinning is a term for pedaling in a very low gear. It's "easy" because your legs spin at high RPMs while you go at a paltry 6 mph. Sometimes slower if it's really steep.

Having the consistent uphill was an interesting twist on the uphills, and actually kinda nice. I could just stay in one gear and go. It didn't seem too hard, and although I wasn't making good time, I wasn't suffering either. It felt like maybe 2 hours, and very could have been, because there were parts where I couldn't have been going more than 4 mph.

The rain persisted on and off, and at this point I barely even noticed when it was or wasn't raining. The group I was riding with had spread out pretty far at this point because of the long uphill, and there was no obvious place to stop for a rest or to regroup, so we all just kept going. I didn't see anyone for a while, and it was very solitary. That was ok. Just me in my own head for hours at a time. It's fun in here. Sometimes.

Despite the rain, it was a surprisingly clear day. I made sure to look up and take in the scenery around me. The hazy light and rain made things seem greener. Since we were going through a mountainous region, there were lots of streams and creeks all along the route, and they were all swollen with the prior evening's downpour. They were interesting to look at, with mini-rapids rushing over tiny boulders. The constant rush of the water was the only music I had all day. (And it really made me have to pee, often.)

After we finished climbing forever, there were some really fun downhills. A few of them were pretty long, and gentle enough of a slope that I could run them out without worrying about getting up too much speed.

At the bottom of one downhill, a couple people in front of me had stopped at an abandoned shop to sit and eat our packed lunch. A few of us stood under an old awning, wanting to get out of the rain for the short time that we could.

I started to get cold pretty quickly and went on ahead even though other riders were still hanging out.

There was still a lot more ups and downs to go, but these were more interspersed, although they did start to blend together after a while. I got to ride with 2 riders that I haven't spent much time with, because they often ride alone. It was nice getting to talk to them and spend a little time with other people in the group. They were very friendly and welcoming.

Now we come to the part of the ride that was the talk of the day (and the next few days, too.) In the rolling hills, at the valley between two hills, I was riding with a woman from the group who was a little ahead of me. A dog had popped out from a hidden residence along this long stretch of hilly country road.
Dogs have come out and run up along side us several times already on this trip, and while we were always cautious, nothing happened. That streak ended here. The dog was chasing my fellow rider, but when I came up on them at a faster pace he abandoned his current prey and chased me. Well, I stood up out of the saddle and have never pushed harder up a hill! I thought I passed the dog by, when suddenly my bike slowed down, as if I'd just gained 50 lbs! The dog had bitten into my pannier and wasn't letting go! After a moment that seemed a lot longer than it was, he let go. Then he went after the other rider, and grabber her saddle bag too! He let go after a moment, and we rode on. Both very shaken and letting the adrenaline come down. I, at least, counted myself lucky that A) he bit our saddle bags and not our legs, and B) he didn't pull me over and cause a crash!

Then we realized that there were 8 other riders still behind us! And I had no cell reception to warn them.

At dinner, and back at camp that night the dog was all the talk. He had chased everyone in the group, and had gotten 7 out of 11 of us. (A few others didn't see him.)
In fact, he had actually torn my pannier! A tooth puncture hole, plus a one inch gash. He'd managed to tear holes in 5 other peoples' bags as well, and even almost took one of the riders down! (we met up with a pair of other riders doing the TransAm, and they reported running into the dog as well, and also had torn panniers to show for it.)

We talked at length about how to handle dogs like that, and many people in the group bought 'Halt' anti-dog spray in town the next day. Word around the bike community is that there are a lot more dogs in Kentucky, so we're all a little on edge.

But, meanwhile, back to the ride. It didn't end there!

After the dog attack, we rode on with more rolling hills. Then, finally, there was one long run out, the last gasp of the mountain as we rode into the town of Damascus. It was about halfway down this hill that the sky opened up and just dumped on us. It was as hard a rain as I've ever been in. And I was barreling down the side of a mountain at 20+ mph in this monsoon! I was mostly ok though, I never felt unsafe and visibility wasn't really affected, but I was getting pretty cold.
Towards the end of the run-out I saw the two riders I'd been with huddled under an awning of an abandoned building. I joined them there, and finally donned my rain pants (a little late, but at this point they were more for warmth.)
We rode the last 2 miles into town.

Once there, they rode on to camp, and I sat down in a little BBQ place to get out of the rain, confident that the other riders behind me would spot my bike and come join me. Sure enough, they did, and after a little while we had a group of 8 or so drinking beers, eating BBQ and talking about the killer dog!

The rain did finally let up, and we rode 2 miles to camp.
Originally we were supposed to set up our tents there, but the camp manager gave us some shelter and let us stay in an unused restaurant dining room. It was very fancy with nice floors, chandeliers and smelled of old wood. It was very interesting, and just a neat place to hang up our helmets for 2 nights.
Because the next day was a Layover day, we had a little more time here.

The Layover day.

Friday we had a day off from riding, and got to explore the little town of Damascus, Va. It's a town of maybe 400 people. But on this particular weekend there was something called 'Trail Days'. The Appalachian Trail runs right through this town, so they do a weekend event every year where hikers plan to arrive and hang out. Like 5000 through-hikers descending on this little town. I got to meet a lot of them and hear about their adventure. They're a different sort, but share the same sense of epic adventure, and they were just as interested in my journey as I was in theirs.
For Trail Days, the town gets a lot of hiking/camping companies to come out and set up booths with their wares. I walked around and saw a lot of neat stuff. Apparently hammocks are really big this year. There was a whole hammock district.

This was a nice layover day, and much more low-key than the last one in Charlottesville. I got to rest, do laundry, update my blog, and meet interesting people. The only negative is that there wasn't a good meal to be had in Damascus. Even the pancakes in the morning were disappointing. Ah well, not everything can be perfect.

It was at least (mostly) dry on that Friday, and it was very interesting to see a different kind of extreme adventurer. But I will tell you this now, I have no intention of hiking the AT. Nothing about that appealed to me. But, I still mean to hike the Inca trail up to Maccu Pichu some day. Then again, one adventure at a time, so I'll focus on finishing this trip.

Thanks for reading.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, it's so cool that you passed through Damascus at the same time as Trail Days! Be careful if you run into more crazy dogs.